Ilhabela – it’s Portuguese for beautiful island…

16 May, 2009

Easter was a great excuse for another mini adventure to….

you guessed it.. the beach!

Somewhat strangely for a country that loves public holidays, Brasil has just only one day off for Easter, but we aren’t exactly complaining, it feel like there is a public holiday every couple of weeks at the moment!!

With only one day off work we headed up the coast to Ilhabela, and island just off the coast with probably the most famous set of beaches in the state.

By chance I got a haircut on the morning that we drove up and my barber told me the three things that the island was famous for – stunning beaches, beautiful women and mosquito’s!

But the fourth thing that the island is famous for is the traffic jams over long weekends with people heading there from both Rio and Sao Paulo. As you can see from the map below, its only 200 odd kms to Ilha Bela, with one short ferry ride across to the island. But the consensus among the staff and customers at the barber shop was that it was going to take us five to seven hours to get there.

In the end it only ended up taking four hours, so we werent complaining!!!

The wait for the short fifteen minute ferry ride can be up to an hour – or over a long weekend even longer, but we did learn a great tip from a friend, that was to book ahead on a specific ferry and prepay, then as long as you arrive around the time of your scheduled ferry (we were about an hour early on the way there, and an hour late on the way back) you can drive right past the queue (which must have been at least three km long on Sunday afternoon) and straight onto the next ferry – thank you very much!!!

The island is basically one giant nature reserve (90 percent of the island is national park) with just one road running from north to south along the western side of the island, its along this road that all of the houses, hotels and restaurants are.

There is also one 4×4 track that goes over the island to the beaches on the eastern side.

All around the island are an amazing 41 beaches with great snorkeling and diving and whole host of ship wrecks to be explored, behind the beaches are massive expanses of lush jungle, not the famous rain forest of the amazon, but remnants of the once equally important Atlantic Rainforest.

The map below shows the two beaches that we visited:

It also shows how close the island is the the mainland and the port of Sao Sebastiao, which unfortunately is a major Petrobras port, so the side of island facing the mainland isnt as nice as the wilder eastern side.

There is only one town on the island, which is really cute and still has a bit of a colonial feel.

We went to Ilha Bela with two german friends, one of whom is lucky?!? enough to need an armoured VW Tourag as his company car, as you can see its a beautiful and somewhat sinister machine:

But as you can also see in this shot, the thickness of the armour plating in the windows and the body add a massive amount of weight to the car, in fact it takes two people to close the boot!

So we werent about to tackle the 4×4 track over to the east of the island in it!!

But we did take it to the beach on the north of the island Jabaquara which is right at the end of the road, which is beautiful:

But dont start thinking this is some isloated hideaway, as you can see here, its quite popular with the boaties and has a couple of excellent beachside restaurants as well as a couple of little snack shacks:

We were told that the best beach on the island was over on the east side, called Castelhanos, so we hired a little speedboat to get around the island which took about an hour and a half. But as you can see the trip around was just stunning:

But the beach at Castelhanos may be now my favourite brasilian beach, though still a little crowded, having beautiful warm water with proper waves and a couple of beachside eateries serving awesome caiparinhas, fried fresh squid and fish make for a perfect way to spend the day at the beach….

Another rough weekend in our brasilian adventure!

And yes, my barber was right, the beaches were amazing, the women were beautiful (as usual in brasil) and the mosquitos were nasty little beggars, whatever variety they are on the island they were evil little creatures, but the problem was easily solved by sleeping in late and hitting the bars early (thus avoiding dawn and dusk when they are most active)!!!